House Appropriators Begin Debating FY 2013 Funding Levels for Federal Agencies

Currently, federal officials are being called to explain how the president's FY 2013 budget request would impact our public protections. As it moves forward with the appropriations process, Congress should refrain from using spending bills to enact ideological policy measures.

Last week, the House Committee on Appropriations kicked off a series of hearings to examine President Obama's FY 2013 budget request for federal agencies. On Feb. 29, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Margaret Hamburg and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson testified before each agency’s respective subcommittee. If last week’s hearings are any indication of those to come, agency officials will have to defend against attacks on substantive regulatory actions and respond to questions about the "tough choices" that were made in the budget. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) said that Congress must work to cut out "unnecessary, ineffectual, and problematic spending in this budget."

Over the next month, agency heads, including those from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS), and the Department of Labor (DOL), will appear before appropriations subcommittees to discuss the FY 2013 budget proposal for their agencies. Administrator Jackson has already been in the hot seat twice, appearing before two House Energy and Commerce subcommittees at a joint hearing on EPA’s budget the day before she testified for the appropriations subcommittee. At both hearings, Jackson said that the $8.344 billion request "focuses on fulfilling EPA's core mission of protecting public health and the environment, while making the sacrifices and tough decisions that Americans across the country are making every day." The request is $105 million below EPA's enacted budget level for FY 2012 and includes a $50 million savings from eliminating "EPA programs and activities that have either met their goals, or can be achieved at the State or local level or by other Federal agencies."

Some members expressed concern about cuts to the Superfund program and State Revolving Funds for clean water and drinking water. However, hydraulic fracturing was arguably the most popular discussion topic. At both hearings, several members argued for more drilling (through the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, method) to increase the country’s natural gas supply. Jackson explained that $14 million is requested to support studies on the environmental impacts of fracking, with $6 million to support a study of the relationship between fracking and drinking water contamination and $8 million going toward a $45 million request for new interagency research between EPA, the Department of Energy, and the U.S. Geological Survey. While fracking was touted as an essential and safe energy production method by some, Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) pointed out at the Energy and Commerce hearing that a thorough study is needed because of the potential risk to human health. Members also criticized EPA clean air rules and argued for defunding the agency’s Community Action for a Renewed Environment (CARE) program, which provides grants to help communities address sources of toxic pollutants.

While one appropriations subcommittee debated funding for environmental programs, another questioned Hamburg on funding for FDA’s food and drug programs. One of the most contentious issues was the proposed $220 million in industry-paid registration fees to increase the agency’s funding for food safety. While increased funding is necessary to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), there is a debate over whether the money should be appropriated to the agency or should come from fees paid by food companies, similar to those paid by the drug industry. In her testimony, Hamburg argued that "[t]he federal investment in FDA is small compared to the breadth of [its] mission and the $2 trillion in products that [it] regulate[s]." She also cautioned that a failure to increase FDA funding in one way or another would have disastrous consequences, including more outbreaks of foodborne illness.

The 2013 budget and appropriations process has just begun, yet it seems that a contentious battle over agency funding lies ahead. Congress should not repeat last year’s mistakes by using the appropriations process to push bills rife with misplaced ideological policy riders. Rather, it must ultimately provide the agencies responsible for protecting the public with the resources they require to effectively fulfill their objectives.

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